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Campaign Records, 1995 - 2009

 Series — Box: Campaigns 1-59

Scope and Contents

Campaign Records include Hagel's campaigns for U.S. Senate in 1996 and 2002, his work on behalf of Nebraskan and national candidates, and his involvement with the National and Nebraska Republican parties. The records are 58.5 cubic feet (59 boxes), 1995 to 2009. The 1996 Campaign records are the first 38.5 feet, reflecting the long and uphill nature of the campaign. See "Additional Description" for a summary of the 1996 and 2002 campaigns.

The series is divided into ten sets of material: Hagel's 1996 Campaign, Hagel's 2002 Campaign, Hagel's multi-campaign and post-2002 activities, Correspondence with Hagel, Hagel's Consideration of a Presidential Campaign, Other Campaigns (non-Hagel), National Republican Party, Nebraaka Republican Party, Sandhills Political Action Committee (PAC), and Victory Campaigns.

The 1996 Campaign records offer an almost complete look at his campaign organization with 18 sub-series of material covering both the Republican Primary versus Attorney General Don Stenberg and general election campaign versus Governor Ben Nelson. Of note among the 39 boxes are detailed event and fundraising material, including planning for hosted events in homes and other venues, targeted mailings, and work of the finance team; the organization of staff, county chairs, coalition members, and other volunteers statewide; polls and surveys from the campaign and other outlets; planning for campaign ads, interaction with media, and speeches from throughout the campaign; research on Hagel and his opponents; and schedules. See the historical note for a summary of this campaign.

In comparison, the 2002 Campaign records are a mere four feet, reflecting that he ran unopposed in the Republican Primary and had an uncompetitive race in the general election with little activity of note until the final month. This set of records has only seven sub-series and a handful of individual folders. Of note are event and fundraising material, planning for campaign ads and interaction with media, research on opponents, polls and surveys, and volunteer work. Given the nature of the campaign, there is simply much less of the records than in 1996. See the historical note for a summary of this campaign.

Following this are records of activities spanning multiple campaigns with 5.5 feet divided into two areas: 1. The work of the Hagel campaign organization from 2003 through 2007 as campaign staff prepared for a possible 2008 re-election campaign. 2. Files spanning the 1996 and 2002 campaigns where it made sense to keep files from multiple years together. Vendor files are an example of this file type.

The Correspondence series is three feet of letters, 2004-2008, from Nebraskan and out-of-state supporters encouraging Hagel to run for re-election or for president in 2008. In-state supporter letters are sorted arranged alphabetically and out-of-state supporter letters are sorted by state. In addition, the series contains a notebook from Hagel's desk filled with letters from supporters circa 2007-2008.

Another series with substantial material is the "Other Campaigns" series with four feet of records. These files cover Hagel's efforts for in-state candidates for local and statewide offices, out-of-state congressional and senatorial candidates, and candidates for national office. His work with in-state candidates consisted of everything from offering an endorsement in a brochure and recording a phone message for a candidate to headlining a fundraiser for a candidate. His work with out-of-state candidates was usually limited to headlining a fundraiser in another state. The records also reflect his considerable efforts supporting John McCain in the 2000 Republican Presidential Primary until McCain withdrew in favor of George W. Bush. The McCain files have correspondence, contribution records, events and schedules, interaction with media, etc. Hagel appeared on many TV programs on McCain's behalf during the primary and continued to speak for McCain through the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Worth noting among the smaller sub-series are the handful of files relating to Hagel's consideration of a presidential run in 2008, including a December 2004 strategy notebook for a presidential run and a New Hampshire trip in 2005. New Hampshire, of course, is a prominent early primary state and follows only the Iowa caucuses. Of note in the National Republican Party sub-series are eleven folders on Hagel's involvement at the Republican National Conventions of 2000 and 2004 where he had speaking and media duties, and seven folders covering Hagel's spirited but unsuccessful run for chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC) in December 1998.


  • Creation: 1995 - 2009

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Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the Nebraska Public Records Statutes (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 84-712 through 84-712.09), and other relevant regulations. Confidential material may include, but is not limited to, educational, medical, and personnel records. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Nebraska Omaha assumes no responsibility.

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Biographical / Historical


Chuck Hagel had always thought about the possibility of running for office, and in the early 1990s he started to seriously consider it when friends and acquaintances in Virginia urged him to run for governor. While he had lived almost half his life in Virginia by then, Hagel chose to seek an opportunity at running for political office in his home state of Nebraska. The Hagel family moved to Nebraska in summer 1992.

In early 1995, Hagel began laying groundwork for a U.S. Senate campaign, lining up consultants, leasing office space, and recruiting staffers. In March 1995, U.S. Senator J.J. (James) Exon announced his retirement after three terms in office, and Hagel announced his candidacy. Hagel had intended on running against Exon, but with the incumbent stepping down, the race became less daunting. In addition, the 1994 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Jan Stoney, 3rd District Republican Congressman Bill Barrett, and 1st District Republican Congressman Doug Bereuter all announced in the first half of 1995 that they would not run.

Still, Hagel was running in a state where he was virtually unknown compared to his main primary opponent Attorney General Don Stenberg and his general election opponent Governor Ben Nelson. Doyle Lavene briefly campaigned in the primary, mostly out in western Nebraska. Meanwhile, Nelson had no Democratic primary opponent other than Bill Hoppner who dropped out in April 1995, more than a year before the primary. Hagel and Stenberg were not that different in their positions. Both were pro-life, pro-gun conservatives who wanted to balance the budget, reduce regulation, and cut taxes. But, Hagel had a compelling story. He came from a small-town Nebraska family and became a decorated Vietnam veteran, millionaire cell-phone entrepreneur, and Republican who served in the Ronald Reagan administration.

Hagel wasn't alone in his campaign work. His family supported him immensely. His wife, Lilibet, daughter Allyn, and very young son Ziller attended events and walked in parades with Hagel. Even his mother, Betty, had her own personal car magnet, "Chuck's Mom," for when she road in parades. His brothers, Mike and Tom, and his aunts participated in parades and other publicity, as well. The campaign was truly a family effort.

Facing an uphill battle for name recognition, Hagel found ways to connect with the public. In fall 1995, the campaign organized a concert in Kearney, Nebraska, with country musician Lee Greenwood, known for his patriotic anthem, "God Bless the USA." The concert garnered Hagel much needed publicity and support. Hagel also spent a lot of time on the ground throughout 1995 and 1996 meeting as many people as possible at local festivals, parades, fairs, and fundraisers across Nebraska. Early on in the campaign, Hagel promised to visit all 93 Nebraska counties, and he met his goal by December 1995. In November 1995, Hagel released "Where I Stand," a striking red booklet detailing his stance on big issues. He mailed copies to Republicans statewide and later featured it in a TV ad, promising to send copies to anyone who asked. That same month, Hagel won the Douglas County Republican Forum straw poll, and the campaign formed the Veterans for Hagel coalition with hundreds of members. It was one of many coalitions that would form during the campaign.

His first TV ad in January 1996, "Nebraska Roots," sought to introduce his Nebraska bona fides: he grew up in Ainsworth, Scottsbluff, and Columbus, among several other Nebraska towns, because his father’s job managing lumber yards necessitated it. He played football in high school. He went to Vietnam with his brother. A Nebraska boy through and though. The other names of ads released during the primary help show the aim of the campaign: Nebraska Roots, Nebraska Conservative, Hard Work, A Darn Good Senator, Where I Stand, What’s Right, 4th Generation Nebraskan, We’re All Tired of Politicians, Clean Up His Act, and Trust.

In February, Vietnam Veterans Memorial founder Jan Scruggs campaigned for Hagel, to help introduce Nebraskans to Hagel the candidate and Army veteran. In March 1996, Hagel for Senate announced its 600+ state and county chairs indicating a growing grassroots support. In April 1996, Hagel toured 24 of the 27 most Republican counties in Nebraska for his "Red, White, and Blue Tour." In May 1996 before the May 14th primary, Hagel for Senate team announced a series of twenty endorsements.

As for campaign funding, Hagel raised $284,000 during the first six months of 1995. Stenberg reported $54,000 from the same period. That December, Hagel rejected Stenberg's request to limit campaign spending. To win the Republican nomination, Hagel spent $1.5 million, half from his own pocket.

They met to debate on the program, “Nebraskans Ask,” a call-in show with Ed Howard. They also met on the UNO campus for the Republican Senatorial Candidate Forum, sponsored by the Omaha World-Herald, UNO Television, and KPTM-Fox 42.

Two weeks before the primary, the Stenberg campaign ran a commercial that criticized Hagel for living too long in Virginia, for changing his positions on abortion and gun control, for wanting to change Social Security, and for giving money to Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey’s 1992 presidential election campaign (Kerrey being a fellow Vietnam veteran). Hagel did not want to retaliate in kind because he felt that Nebraskans would be turned off by negative campaigning. Instead, the Hagel campaign answered quickly with two ads, “Trust” part one and two, in which campaign volunteers spoke directly to the camera, saying how angry they were about the negative ads.

On May 14, 1996, Hagel emerged victorious over Stenberg with 62% of the vote. Stenberg drove from Lincoln to Omaha to congratulate Hagel in person. The most important thing, Stenberg said, was that Nebraska elect a Republican to the Senate. Now with much increased name recognition, Hagel turned his eyes toward November and Ben Nelson (after a much needed family vacation).


When Senator Exon announced his retirement, Democratic heavyweights encouraged Nelson to seek his seat even though Nelson had started his second term as governor only two months prior. Nelson went back and forth before deciding to run while the Nebraska Republican Party reminded the public of Nelson’s 1994 pledge to serve his entire term. Nelson was a popular governor who had won his 1994 November re-election with 73% of the vote. A May 1995 poll showed Nelson leading Hagel 65 to 18 percent. Nelson had another advantage. He spent only $79,000 running unopposed for the Democratic nomination and had a war chest of over $1.5 million for the run against Hagel. They also had two third-party opponents: Bill Dunne with the Natural Law Party and John DeCamp with the Libertarian Party.

On August 12, Hagel spoke on the stage at the Republican National Convention along with other Republican candidates. Throughout the summer and fall, Republican leaders from outside Nebraska helped his campaign. Former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci and Senators John McCain, Connie Mack, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Don Nickles, Trent Lott, and Craig Thomas helped him campaign and appeared at his fundraisers.

Nelson was similar to Hagel in some key ways. They were both millionaires who had worked in government and business. They held similar opinions on gun control, abortion, a balanced budget, and tax cuts. Nelson said he would remain conservative and independent should Nebraskans send him to Washington. They had key differences, of course. Hagel supported the Freedom to Farm Act; Nelson said it would hurt Nebraska farmers. Nelson supported a minimum wage increase, but Hagel wanted to reduce regulations and emphasize personal accountability. Hagel sought to make Social Security more sustainable for the long term; Nelson wanted to keep the program intact. They each agreed the U.S. needed a balanced budget but disagreed on how to balance it. Hagel released a budget plan in June that cut three federal agencies and decreased funding for all regulatory agencies by 25%. Nelson responded in July with a budget heavily reliant on closing tax loopholes and making incremental cuts to various agencies. The two campaigns spent considerable time publicizing mistakes they found in the other’s plan, such that by the end of the summer the biggest issue they were debating was whose budget had stronger math.

There was plenty of negativity in the campaign. Nelson accused Hagel of investing money in a Chinese nuclear plant, defrauding the government through his cellular phone company, and accepting federal wages while working for a political campaign, among other things. Meanwhile, Hagel zeroed in on Nelson’s 1994 pledge to serve his full gubernatorial term and his promise to relieve Nebraskans’ property tax burden. He said about Nelson at one campaign stop, “This is a guy who lies. This is a guy who cheats. This is a guy who will do anything.” Hagel’s focus on property taxes led Nelson to respond with an accusation about Hagel’s company, Vanguard Cellular Systems. Nelson said Vanguard did not pay taxes between 1988 and 1992, a point the Hagel campaign rushed to contextualize. Nelson’s biggest hit came in a campaign ad that aired three weeks before the election. It charged that Hagel had rigged the lottery set up by the federal government to distribute cellular licenses, a charge refuted by the Hagel campaign and cited as below-the-belt by newspapers statewide.

Campaign ads were a huge part of both campaigns. Hagel put out his first TV ad in August for the General Election in August. Called “A Nebraska Story,” it shared the same goal as his initial primary ad, “Nebraska Roots” – show Hagel’s Nebraska bona fides and list his top concerns. Hagel then released a series of ads on a similar theme—taxes, spending, and a smaller government—with names like, Tax Cut Plan, Spending Cut Plan, and You Pay Too Much. Hagel didn’t mention Nelson in TV ads until the final three weeks of the campaign when he released a slew of ads attacking Nelson and refuting Nelson’s attacks against him. The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee contributed anti-Nelson ads to the effort. In the midst of the flurry of late attacks from both candidates, Hagel returned to a positive, biographical theme with the ad, “Once in a Generation Leader.” The campaign also released radio ads using much of the same text and music as the TV ads.

Hagel and Nelson first met for debate on August 24 at “Vote 96” sponsored by the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, WOWT-Omaha, and KHGI-Kearney in Hastings, Nebraska with moderator Charlie Brogan, president of the Association. The swift 60-minute forum had a question and answer format with no formal rebuttal. A debate set for August 25 at the Nebraska State Fair was cancelled on the 24th due to a court ruling that public television stations couldn’t sponsor debates that excluded minor-party candidates. Nebraska Educational Television canceled the debate because the Libertarian and Natural Law candidates hadn’t been invited. Hagel and Nelson met again in Hastings on September 6 for a more formal debate with allowances for rebuttal. The 90-minute affair was sponsored by the Nebraska Associated Press and moderated by Jeff Funk, Managing Editor of the Grand Island Independent. They met once more on September 29 for “96 Vote,” a sit-down, face-to-face, 60-minute discussion moderated by KMTV-Omaha anchor Loretta Carrol and KMTV political reporter Joe Jordan. It had an open format with no opening and closing statements and no rules. The Omaha World Herald reported the next day that it was “particularly acrimonious” showing “little on which the two agreed.”

On October 31, an Omaha World Herald poll called the race a toss-up, putting Nelson at 49% and Hagel at 47%. On November 5, Hagel defeated Nelson with 56% of the vote. The following month, Hagel traveled to Washington, D.C., for orientation with other senators-elect. The work of campaigning, of course, was far from over. Hagel reported $1 million in campaign debt, including some of his own money, all of which the campaign paid off through 1999 even as they continually raised money for his 2002 campaign, the Sandhills Political Action Committee, and other Republican candidates.

On December 19, the campaign threw a victory dinner to thank its volunteers and staff. His primary and general campaigns would have gone nowhere without the people who made up his campaign organization. These people were divided into three main groups: volunteers on the ground, financial leadership, and staff. His 600-plus county and state chairs were volunteers-in-chief in their home counties. They canvassed neighborhoods, organized rallies, wrote letters to newspapers, placed yard signs, and generally worked to get out the vote. Financial leaders were primarily influential or wealthy people who hosted and organized fundraising events, set financial goals, and networked on Hagel’s behalf. The staff did everything else. They wrote press releases and speeches, drafted position statements, kept Hagel’s schedule, dealt with event logistics, paid bills, communicated with county chairs and financial leadership, scheduled ad time, marched in parades, sent thank-you letters, and the list goes on.


Hagel ran unopposed in the 2002 Republican Primary. In the Democratic Primary, Charlie Matulka, a construction worker from Beatrice, defeated Al Hamburg. Despite running unopposed, Hagel built up his statewide campaign organization and traveled throughout Nebraska attending fairs, parades, and local events, just as he had in 1996. He also ran a handful of TV ads—far fewer than in 1996. They were all positive in tone and re-introduced Nebraskans to Hagel’s biography and key issues. These ads were: An American Leader, Farmer, Greatest Generation / Seniors, and Liberty.

In October, Matulka held a press conference in which he accused Hagel of a conflict of interest for holding shares in the McCarthy Group which in turn owned about 25% stock in the company that manufactured the machines used by Nebraska to tally votes. He also said it was improper for the head of the McCarthy Group to serve as Hagel’s campaign treasurer, and that Hagel had been CEO of a company which made optical scanners used by Nebraska to count ballots at the time of his election to the Senate in 1996. The latter accusation was simply not true. He had stopped being CEO and resigned from the board prior to 1996. Still, the Hagel campaign had to rush to adequately explain the situation for those Nebraskans paying attention to this otherwise uncompetitive race.

On November 7th, Hagel defeated Matulka, Libertarian John Graziano and Independent Phil Chase with 83% of the vote. Clearly, some Democrats had voted for the incumbent Hagel. Turnout in general was also depressed, with about 480,000 Nebraskans showing up to the polls. This was down even compared to other Nebraska senatorial elections in midterm (non-presidential) election years of the 1990s and 2000s.


58.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Repository Details

Part of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Archives & Special Collections Repository

Archives & Special Collections
Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Library
6001 Dodge St.
Omaha Nebraska 68182-0237 United States